The challenge for any musical act is to continue to evolve while developing a sound that is distinctly their own. For many bands, these changes amount to little more than window dressing or variations on a theme. That's not the case for Seattle quintet Minus the Bear. Their five albums explore a blend of intricate prog, ambient synth-pop, knotty post-punk, and moody indie rock. With each release, the band's different facets have come to the fore.
After Minus the Bear's adventurous 2010 release, Omni, they returned last year with Infinity Overhead, an album that consolidates their strengths and reprises past successes. "To me, when you listen to Infinity Overhead, it almost sounds like a little bit of every record," says drummer Erin Tate from a tour stop in Bloomington, Ill. "I also think there's some stuff we really hadn't tried yet and kind of broke out of our shell."
Case in point: More than half of Infinity Overhead's 10 songs don't break the four-minute mark. "On Infinity Overhead, there were definitely some songs that were longer, but after we recorded it, we were like, 'Does this feel right?' and we'll kind of second guess ourselves," Tate says. "Then there are songs like 'Heaven is a Ghost Town' that are long, and we argued, 'Does this ending part need to jam this hard?' and we were like, 'Fuck yeah, that's what feels right for this song.' It's more of a conscious thing for all of us now than maybe it was five to six years ago."
And without a label deal for the first time, Minus the Bear paid for big-time producer Joe Chiccarelli (Elton John, the Shins, My Morning Jacket) out of pocket. "It is a bit of a sore subject," he says. "He's an eight-time Grammy winning producer. He's not cheap."
The process resulted in a release that not everyone in the band was happy with. Tate implies they might've made some different production decisions were they not intimidated by Chiccarelli's resume.
"Joe definitely had a thing he wanted to go for, and at the time we had been listening to a lot of funk and soul, and some of his ideas we were like, 'That sounds cool, that reminds me of something from a Funkadelic record,'" Tate says.
Although Chiccarelli and Minus weren't necessarily on different pages with regards to the album's soul-pop approach, Tate feels they may have allowed him to put a bigger thumbprint on the album than they would've preferred.
"It was a process none of us had ever experienced before," he says. "There wasn't a lot of discussion [with Chiccarelli]. I'm not saying he bossed us around. It was just that we were intimidated by him in certain ways."
If Infinity Overhead feels sort of like a Minus the Bear greatest hits release, a closing chapter on the band's first dozen years, don't put down the book yet. Tate and company are endless tinkerers who don't know the word quit. "Our work ethic is exactly the same, our family life is just increasing. But it ain't stopping any time soon," he says. "We made a promise to ourselves eight months ago that we weren't going to tour any longer than three weeks in a row ... Then all of a sudden this tour came up, and it was like, 'Well, let's go for eight weeks.' So I don't think our work ethic has slowed down at all. We just tell ourselves it's going to."